Did *’Fight Club’* glorify or criticize the Protagonists?

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Many a man love the film ‘Fight Club’ by David Fincher. They get inspired and treat the plot & philosophy as life lessons.

However others say the movie was actually criticizing the portrayed culture.

Critic “Moviebob” Chipman writes:

The obvious most-glaring example (both within and, by now, apart from Fincher’s ouvre) is Fight Club. The film itself isn’t exactly subtle about the disdain with which Fincher views the main characters in a story about charismatic blowhard Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) wooing disaffected/emasculated losers into his cathartic bareknuckle-boxing club and gradually focusing their impotent rage and entitled sense of the world owing them the patriarchal comforts of their father’s generation into an anarchist-terrorist campaign. The film does a fine job of showing exactly how, historically, populations of disaffected directionless men have generated violent groupthink-subcultures and quasi-fascist “philosophers” looking to mold them into something more dangerous.


Who is correct:

a) Followers

b) Critics

c) Intentionally left ambiguous for viewers to interpret it according to their beliefs, similar to the Life of Pi ending.

And even though nobody ever turns to the camera to lecture the audience (at least not without irony) I always felt we were left with a pretty clear sense that “Project Mayhem” were a pack of idiots, that Tyler’s “Blow up the civilization so men can be real men again!” sermonizing was little more than re-purposed/generalized Hiterlian “reclaim the Ubermensch birthright” swill (by the end Mayhem’s “space monkey” acolytes are literally skinheads!) and that while disaffection with the modern world was understandable anyone who’d actually swallow this crap was either stupid, weak, a monster or all three.

As a professional film critic, I often say it isn’t about who’s right or who’s wrong.

It’s op-ed. The only question is how well does the critic, or moviegoer for that matter, support their thesis/argument with relevant observations that can be readily drawn from the film without any significant contortions of meaning.

I’ve heard every permutation on FIGHT CLUB, including one that laid out, fairly well, how the entire thing is an allegory of Siddhartha’s detachment from material desire and subsequent enlightenment.

But because the film never concludes with Siddhartha’s greatest learning, that moderation, not asceticism, is the key to enlightenment, it only follows him part of the way. Does this mean the allegory fails the story, or the other way around?

It’s difficult to say but it’s worth noting that Palahniuk never mentions this connection in any interview, so if there is a Buddhist parallel, it certainly wasn’t consciously conceived.

That said, you could just as easily argue that Tyler did in fact become enlightened, when he realized his attachment to his illusion of self was the last thing holding him back. Not credit cards, not banks, not systems, not institutions. When he symbolically shoots himself, he is doing exactly what Siddhartha did, and confronting his own demon, himself and his ideas, which are all still rooted in a material world.

But the film never peels back the curtain to show the audience that the violence was just a stylistic vehicle for a message men fed a steady diet of toxic masculinity all their lives might otherwise reject. It never translates Eastern dualities which lie along an axis of creation and destruction rather than the axis of good versus evil. So to much of its intended audience, FIGHT CLUB speaks at cross purposes with itself.

Consequently, this falls into the territory of Ebert’s First Law of Symbolism: If you have to ask what it symbolizes, it didn’t.

I’ve heard every permutation on FIGHT CLUB

Yeah I also heard many versions, hence the question. There are movies like Prometheus by Ridley Scott where the questions are intentionally left open. So if ‘op-ed’ is your final answer I can live with that. However, unlike Prometheus which marks the beginning of a quadrilogy, Fight Club is a standalone film who in my opinion might give clues

What is your best guess?

I think of it as a creative, if flawed, allegory of the Buddha.

If we want to examine flawed character motivations within an otherwise well-made movie, Gilliam’s 12 MONKEYS is a better example. Most of his career, Gilliam has been making variations of Chris Marker’s La Jetée, but 12 MONKEYS is his first attempt at a direct adaptation.

The Army of the 12 Monkeys is also a group of disaffected, directionless people, mostly men, who are convinced that their problems are the world’s problems, and their solution is the solution for the world. Granted, the majority of the film is about Bruce Willis’ character’s own circuitous catharsis, but a good portion of the film takes us into the mind and backstory of Jeffrey Goines and his strained relationship with his father, played by Chris Plummer.

Unlike Fincher’s lens on Tyler, or Kubrick’s lens on Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Gilliam doesn’t portray Goines as some kind of antihero. But he’s not turning it into a generational debate, either. That Goines is mentally ill doesn’t mean that his father’s actions haven’t contributed to the decline in society. However, the inter-dependencies of these different individuals and groups, and the consequences of their actions, both direct and indirect, upon one another and themselves, are examined more closely.

FIGHT CLUB gives complete deference to the individual, white male’s journey toward betterment without any regard for the price paid by the rest of society for Tyler’s vision quest. And I suppose that fits within Fincher’s oeuvre…

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